Friday, January 20, 2012

Songwriters festival brought the good vibrations

Beach view at Watercolor Resort.
SANTA ROSA BEACH — The breeze was gentle, if a bit cold, coming off the Gulf of Mexico last Friday afternoon. The sun was low on the horizon. Except for a single woman in dark sweats climbing the stairs to the boardwalk, the beaches were empty for as far as the eye could see.

I stood on the water side of Fish Out of Water restaurant on Friday the 13th in South Walton County, waiting for a press conference to begin. Inside, headliners for the annual 30A Songwriters Festival were gathering to meet the press. Outside, the afternoon was perfect, and my luck was holding out.

I circled the area and strolled the resort, stopping in at the Blue Giraffe to meet the proprietor and one of the clerks. Traffic was picking up along 30A as I crossed back to the restaurant.

Gibson prize winners with artists.
The event organizers paraded eight people onto a stage to say a few words and pass the microphone. They laughed with each other like old friends, though most of them never had met. Later, they milled among the media representatives for brief one-on-ones.

The mood was light, friendly and fun, though I was still a little bit star-struck.

Jim Lauderdale talked about changing the debt ceiling before he “realized” he was at a different sort of press conference. Then he told a story about staying up all night Thursday penning songs with John Oates.

Oates joked he was, in fact, Darryl Hall. “I used to be tall and blonde, but ever since I started working with Jim Lauderdale, I shrunk,” he said before turning serious about how honored he was to be invited to participate in the festival.

Joan Osborne also claimed to be Hall and showed off her blond tresses as proof. Up close, her smile was as brilliant as her dimples were deep. She spoke of her new album project and the beauty of the beaches with equal enthusiasm.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, the most beautiful beaches in the world,’ but I went out there yesterday with my daughter and it’s like powdered sugar,” Osborne said. “It’s incredible. You all know this, but I live in Brooklyn, so this is like a really nice break for me to have in January.”

Matthew Sweet stood in the back of the room and smiled and waved when he was called out by the folks on the stage. Arriving on the heels of a tour of Japan and the West Coast, he was jetlagged but grateful to be here. He also was excited to be playing the entirety of his landmark “Girlfriend” album live.

“People are very nostalgic about the album,” Sweet said. “It’s amazing that it’s been 20 years. This year it will turn 21 — so she can drink, I guess.”

Mullins and Simmons
After the interviews, Shawn Mullins paused and took a photo with a fan. Amy Ray delayed her exit long enough to hear how much my sister loves the Indigo Girls — and to agree with her good taste. She also posed for a photo with a car sticker.

Amy Ray
“I’m so psyched to be here,” Ray said. “The house I’m staying in is gorgeous. … It’s just a great area. I love being in the South.”

On the way home, I stopped by Central Square Records in Seaside to check out a rumor about the Mountain Goats and ran into another singer/songwriter visiting for the festival: Carmel Mikol was hanging out, watching people hunt and peck on the manual typewriter she had placed on a decoupage table by the couch.

But that’s a story for next week…

Matthew Sweet

(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 19.)
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